Reducing Teenage Pregnancy

Teenage pregnancy raises important social, economic, moral and family concerns. Any foundation endeavoring to address adolescent pregnancy must recognize the potentially explosive nature of the issue and, if it wishes to avoid being caught in an explosion, proceed with delicacy. In this chapter, Will Bunch, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist with the Philadelphia Daily News, traces the evolution of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's efforts over a 20-year period to address this potentially controversial issue.

Although it has never been one of its explicit priorities, the Foundation has allocated more than $179 million to reducing teenage pregnancy. Its initial efforts—supporting school-based health centers that, among other things, referred high school students to contraceptive counseling and services—generated considerable controversy when they were introduced in the 1980s. Although the Foundation has continued to support school-based health centers and also has funded an abstinence-only program, in the 1990s it settled on an approach that tended to tamp down potential controversy: it supported the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, which involves people from all parts of the political spectrum, uses the latest scientific information in presenting the issues, recommends multiple approaches to reducing teen pregnancy, and frames the debate in terms of the social and economic costs of teen pregnancy.

In addition to providing insights about reducing teenage pregnancy, this chapter also illustrates how the Foundation has approached a potentially controversial area that it considers important.